Selbstschutz stands for two organisations:
  1. A name used by a number of paramilitary organisations created by ethnic Germans in Central
    Central Europe
    Central Europe or alternatively Middle Europe is a region of the European continent lying between the variously defined areas of Eastern and Western Europe...

     and Eastern Europe
    Eastern Europe
    Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

  2. A name for self-defence measures and units in ethnic German, Austrian, and Swiss civil defence.

Para-military organisation

Selbstschutz as a para-military organisation was formed both after World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 in territories inhabited by Germans outside of Germany before the beginning of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

; notably in Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, the Free City of Danzig
Free City of Danzig
The Free City of Danzig was a semi-autonomous city-state that existed between 1920 and 1939, consisting of the Baltic Sea port of Danzig and surrounding areas....

, Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 and Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

by ethnic Germans who were citizens of these countries. The first incarnation of the organisation was aimed at keeping Polish inhabited territories within Germany, while later was known for its widespread involvement in atrocities.

In 1921, units of Selbstschutz took part in the fights against the Third Silesian Uprising. In 1938, a campaign was started by local Selbstschutz in the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland
Sudetenland is the German name used in English in the first half of the 20th century for the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, specifically the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia being within Czechoslovakia.The...

 in order to subjugate the local Czechs prior to the Munich Conference. During the Invasion of Poland
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...

 of 1939, a number of similar units operating in Poland and led by volunteers trained in Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 were officially merged into one organization. The unit took part in fighting as a Fifth Column
Fifth column
A fifth column is a group of people who clandestinely undermine a larger group such as a nation from within.-Origin:The term originated with a 1936 radio address by Emilio Mola, a Nationalist General during the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War...

, and then served as the auxiliary force of the Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

 and SS during the early stages of the occupation of Poland. Numbering 82,000 men on November 26, 1939, the unit was disbanded and the majority of its members joined the German SS or Gestapo by the spring of the following year.

Inter-war years

In Silesia
Silesia is a historical region of Central Europe located mostly in Poland, with smaller parts also in the Czech Republic, and Germany.Silesia is rich in mineral and natural resources, and includes several important industrial areas. Silesia's largest city and historical capital is Wrocław...

, Selbstschutz militia were active on the German side of the Polish/German conflicts in the area. In 1921, its organized units resisted the Polish rebellion in the Third Silesian Uprising; which was aimed at seceding Upper Silesia from Germany.

Mennonite units

Russian Mennonite young men in Ukraine from Molotschna
Molotschna Colony was a Russian Mennonite settlement in what is now Zaporizhia Oblast in Ukraine. Today is called Molochansk with a population of under 10,000. The settlement is named after the Molochna River which forms its western boundary. Today the land mostly falls within the Tokmatskyi and...

 and to a lesser extent Chortitza
Chortitza Colony was a Russian Mennonite settlement northwest of Khortytsia Island and is now part of Zaporizhia, Ukraine. Chortitza was founded in 1789 by...

 formed Selbstschutz units through the influence of the German occupation forces at the end of World War I. Before the end of the occupation, German soldiers supervised the creation of several Selbstschutz units, leaving guns, ammunition, and a few officers to command the groups. Together with a neighboring Lutheran colony, the young men from Molotschna formed twenty companies totaling 2,700 infantry and 300 cavalry, which, during the Russian Civil War, held back the forces of anarchist Nestor Makhno
Nestor Makhno
Nestor Ivanovych Makhno or simply Daddy Makhno was a Ukrainian anarcho-communist guerrilla leader turned army commander who led an independent anarchist army in Ukraine during the Russian Civil War....

 until March 1919. When the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 combined with Makhno, the self-defense group was forced to retreat and disband. This attempt to defend the villages departed from the Mennonite's traditional teaching of nonresistance
Nonresistance is generally defined as "the practice or principle of not resisting authority, even when it is unjustly exercised". At its core is discouragement of, even opposition to, physical resistance to an enemy...

 and was disapproved by many colonists. However, in the absence of effective governmental authority and when faced with the horrific atrocities committed by anarchist partisans, many others came to believe in the necessity of self defence. Later church conferences and delegations officially condemned this action as a "grave mistake".

World War II

The Selbstschutz were reintroduced during the late 1930s in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Selbstschutz activists worked to indoctrinate ethnic Germans and commit acts of terrorism against the Czech population in the Sudetenland.

In the interwar period German minority organizations in Poland such as Jungdeutsche Partei, Deutsche Vereinigung, Deutscher Volksbund and Deutscher Volksverband actively cooperated with Nazi Germany through espionage, sabotage, provocations and political indoctrination. They maintained close contact with and were directed by the NSDAP, Auslandsorganisation, Gestapo, SD
Sicherheitsdienst , full title Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS, or SD, was the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany. The organization was the first Nazi Party intelligence organization to be established and was often considered a "sister organization" with the...

 and Abwehr
The Abwehr was a German military intelligence organisation from 1921 to 1944. The term Abwehr was used as a concession to Allied demands that Germany's post-World War I intelligence activities be for "defensive" purposes only...

. It is estimated that 25% of the German minority in Poland were members of these organisations.

By October 1938, SD agents were organizing the Selbstschutz in Poland. Ethnic Germans with Polish citizenship were trained in the Third Reich in various sabotage methods and guerilla tactics.

Even before the war, Selbstschutz activists from Poland helped to organize lists of Poles who later were to be arrested or executed in Operation Tannenberg
Operation Tannenberg
Operation Tannenberg was the codename for one of the extermination actions directed at the Polish people during World War II, part of the Generalplan Ost...


With the beginning of the Invasion of Poland
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...

 on 1 September 1939, Selbstschutz units engaged in hostility towards the Polish population and military, and performed sabotage operations helping the German attack on the Polish state.
In mid-September, the chaotic and autonomous activities of this organization were coordinated by SS
The Schutzstaffel |Sig runes]]) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Built upon the Nazi ideology, the SS under Heinrich Himmler's command was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity during World War II...

 officers. Gustav Berger was placed in charge of the organization and district commanders in occupied zones made by the German army were put in place — West Prussia
West Prussia
West Prussia was a province of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1773–1824 and 1878–1919/20 which was created out of the earlier Polish province of Royal Prussia...

, Upper Silesia
Upper Silesia
Upper Silesia is the southeastern part of the historical and geographical region of Silesia. Since the 9th century, Upper Silesia has been part of Greater Moravia, the Duchy of Bohemia, the Piast Kingdom of Poland, again of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown and the Holy Roman Empire, as well as of...

 and Warthegau
Reichsgau Wartheland
Reichsgau Wartheland was a Nazi German Reichsgau formed from Polish territory annexed in 1939. It comprised the Greater Poland and adjacent areas, and only in part matched the area of the similarly named pre-Versailles Prussian province of Posen...


While the SS leadership was limited to overseeing the operations, local units remained under the control of ethnic Germans who had proven their commitment at the beginning of the war.

Selbstschutz also organized concentration camps for Poles. Occasionally they were founded in places where Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 or German police units established camps. There were 19 such camps in the following places: Bydgoszcz (Bromberg), Brodnica
Brodnica is a town in northern Poland with 27,400 inhabitants . Previously part of Toruń Voivodeship [a province], from 1975 to 1998, Brodnica has been situated in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship since 1999...

 (Strasburg), Chełmno (Kulm), Dorposz Szlachecki
Dorposz Szlachecki
Dorposz Szlachecki is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Kijewo Królewskie, within Chełmno County, Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, in north-central Poland. It lies south of Chełmno, north-west of Toruń, and north-east of Bydgoszcz....

, Kamień Krajeński
Kamien Krajenski
Kamień Krajeński is a town in Sępólno County, Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland, with 2,276 inhabitants ....

, Karolewo
Karolewo may refer to the following places:*Karolewo, Bydgoszcz County in Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship *Karolewo, Grudziądz County in Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship...

, Lipno
Lipno may refer to:* Lipno, Poland, a town in north-central Poland, seat of Lipno County*Lipno, Gmina Lipno in Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship *Lipno, Świecie County in Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship...

 (Lippe), Łobżenica, Nakło (Nakel), Nowy Wiec
Nowy Wiec
Nowy Wiec is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Skarszewy, within Starogard County, Pomeranian Voivodeship, in northern Poland. It lies approximately north-west of Skarszewy, north-west of Starogard Gdański, and south-west of the regional capital Gdańsk.For details of the history...

 (near Skarszew
Skarszew is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Żelazków, within Kalisz County, Greater Poland Voivodeship, in west-central Poland. It lies approximately north-east of Kalisz and south-east of the regional capital Poznań.-References:...

), Nowe (over Vistula
The Vistula is the longest and the most important river in Poland, at 1,047 km in length. The watershed area of the Vistula is , of which lies within Poland ....

), Piastoszyn
Piastoszyn is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Kęsowo, within Tuchola County, Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, in north-central Poland. It lies approximately north of Kęsowo, west of Tuchola, and north of Bydgoszcz....

, Płutowo, Sępolno
Sępolno is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Miedzichowo, within Nowy Tomyśl County, Greater Poland Voivodeship, in west-central Poland. It lies approximately east of Miedzichowo, north-west of Nowy Tomyśl, and west of the regional capital Poznań.-References:...

, Krajeńskie, Solec Kujawski
Solec Kujawski
Solec Kujawski is a town with 15,505 inhabitants and an area of 176 km², situated 14 kilometres southeast of Bydgoszcz in Poland at . Solec Kujawski belongs to the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship...

 (Schulitz), Tuchola
Tuchola is a town in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship in northern Poland. The Pomeranian town, which had a population of 13,976 as of 2004, is located close to the Tuchola Forests about 7t0 km north of Bydgoszcz, and is the seat of Tuchola County...

 (Tuchel), Wąbrzeźno
Wąbrzeźno is a town in Poland, in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, about 35 km northeast of Toruń. It is the capital of the Wąbrzeźno County...

 (Briesen), Wolental
Wolental is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Skórcz, within Starogard County, Pomeranian Voivodeship, in northern Poland. It lies approximately north of Skórcz, south of Starogard Gdański, and south of the regional capital Gdańsk....

 (near Skórcza), Wyrzysk
Wyrzysk is a town in Poland with 5,263 inhabitants, situated in Piła County, Greater Poland Voivodeship.- Geographic location of municipal-rural community of Wyrzysk:...

The majority of the Poles imprisoned in those camps (consisting of men, women and youth) were murdered in cruel ways.

After German invasion of Poland Selbstschutz worked together with the Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen were SS paramilitary death squads that were responsible for mass killings, typically by shooting, of Jews in particular, but also significant numbers of other population groups and political categories...

 in massacres of Poles. For example this organisation took part in first action of elimination Polish inteligentia, the Mass murders in Piaśnica
Mass murders in Piaśnica
The mass murders in Piaśnica were a set of mass executions carried out by Germans, during World War II, between the fall of 1939 and spring of 1940 in Piasnica Wielka in the Darzlubska Wilderness near Wejherowo. Standard estimates put the number of victims at between twelve thousand and fourteen...

, during which between 12,000 and 16,000 civilians were murdered. An Intelligenzaktion
Intelligenzaktion was a genocidal action of Nazi Germany targeting Polish elites as part of elimination of potentially dangerous elements. It was an early measure of the Generalplan Ost. About 60,000 people were killed as the result of this operation...

was a plan to eliminate all Polish intelligentsia and Poland's leadership class in the country. These operations took place soon after the fall of Poland, lasting from the fall of 1939 until the spring of 1940. As the result in 10 regional actions 60,000 landowners, teachers, polish entrepreneurs, social workers, military veterans, members of national organisations, priests, judges and political activists were killed. The Intelligenzaktions were continued by the German AB-Aktion operation in Poland.

By 5 October 1939, in West Prussia alone, Selbstschutz under the command of Ludolf von Alvensleben
Ludolf von Alvensleben
Ludolf-Hermann Emmanuel Georg Kurt Werner von Alvensleben was a Nazi official in the rank of SS-Gruppenführer and Major General of the Police. His familiar name was "Bubi" .- Background :...

 was 17,667 men strong, and had already executed 4,247 Poles, while Alvensleben complained to Selbstschutz officers that too few Poles had been shot. (German officers had reported that only a fraction of Poles had been "destroyed" in the region with the total number of those executed in West Prussia during this action being about 20,000. One Selbstschutz commander, Wilhelm Richardt, said in Karolewo (Karlhof) camp that he did not want to build big camps for Poles and feed them, and that it was an honour for Poles to fertilize the German soil with their corpses There was little opposition or lack of enthusiasm for activities of the Selbstschutz among those involved in the action. There was even a case where a Selbstschutz commander was relieved after he failed to account for all the Poles that were required, and it was found that he executed "only" 300 Poles.

The total number of Selbstschutz members in Poland is estimated at 82,000.

The organization was ordered to be dissolved on 26 November 1939, yet this process continued until the spring of 1940. Among the reasons for this order were cases of extreme corruption, disorderly behaviour and conflicts with other organizations as well as excessive use of force.

The existence of a large paramilitary organization of ethnic Germans with Polish citizenship that helped in the German war against Poland and engaged in widespread massacres of Poles served as one of the reasons for the expulsion of Germans after the war
Expulsion of Germans after World War II
The later stages of World War II, and the period after the end of that war, saw the forced migration of millions of German nationals and ethnic Germans from various European states and territories, mostly into the areas which would become post-war Germany and post-war Austria...



"People executed by shooting were finished by blows from shovels, or by beating with rifles, sometimes they were even buried alive. Mothers were forced to place their children in mass graves where they were shot together afterwards. Before executions women and girls were raped.(...) [Those atrocities] evoked horror even in Germans, including some soldiers who were terrified at what they saw in the camps."

A short description of Selbstschutz operations from Polish State Museum of Stutthof
Sztutowo is a village in Nowy Dwór Gdański County, part of the Pomeranian Voivodeship of Poland. It is located about 38 km east of Gdańsk on the northeastern edge of the Vistula Delta, at the base of the Vistula Spit on the Baltic coast....


Civil defense organisation

Selbstschutz can be defined as the local self-help of the civil population and of local and national institutions and infrastructures against air raids and catastrophes. The term was coined in the 1920s and was widely used in the 1930s as part of the German preparations for the Second World War.

The German Selbstschutz was part of a comprehensive system of air-raid protection conceived by the German government and which covered the civil population, industry and public administrations.

There are several forms of Selbstschutz:
- the Selbstschutz of the local population, organised by air wardens and forming small first intervention squads,
- the Selbstschutz of infrastructures (railways, post and telecommunications, waterways, police, SS) and of public bureaucracies (ministry of finance, for instance),
- the Werkluftschutz of private industry.
All forms of Selbstschutz became eventually mandatory, at latest with the start of the war in 1939.

Besides its official function, air-raid protection, the Selbstschutz and its administrative organisation, the Reichsluftschutzbund, had additional functions:
- mentally and practically preparing the German population for war,
- fostering the feeling of belongingness (Volksgemeinschaft),
- controlling the political opinion (through the air-wardens) in the city wards,
- security: collaborating with the local police and the Gestapo.

After the end of World War II the organisation was dissolved.

With the Cold War and concomitant German rearmement a new denazified Selbstschutz organisation was created, based on the experience of its forerunner and organised by the Bundesluftschutzverband (BLSV), which was later renamed the Bundesverband für den Selbstschutz (BVS). Among its major activities were the training of the civil population in first aid and propaganda for constructing air-raid shelters. In West Germany in the 1980s, standard telephone directories included a page with instruction from the BVS how to protect yourself in catastrophes and in case of attacks.

With the end of the Cold War the BVS was dissolved in 1997.

See also

  • Polish Military Organisation
    Polish Military Organisation
    Polish Military Organisation, PMO was a secret military organization created by Józef Piłsudski in August 1914, and officially named in November 1914, during World War I. Its tasks were to gather intelligence and sabotage the enemies of the Polish people...

     (Polska Organizacja Wojskowa)
  • Fifth column
    Fifth column
    A fifth column is a group of people who clandestinely undermine a larger group such as a nation from within.-Origin:The term originated with a 1936 radio address by Emilio Mola, a Nationalist General during the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War...

  • Operation Tannenberg
    Operation Tannenberg
    Operation Tannenberg was the codename for one of the extermination actions directed at the Polish people during World War II, part of the Generalplan Ost...

  • World War II atrocities in Poland
    World War II atrocities in Poland
    Approximately six million Polish citizens, divided nearly equally between non-Jewish and Jewish, perished during World War II. Most were civilians killed by the actions of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and their allies. At the Nuremberg Tribunal, three categories were established. These categories...

External links

Selbstschutz, Deutsche und Polen Hitler's preparations for aggression and extermination against Poles in Pomorze, Gdańsk and Free City of Danzig from Polish State Museum of Stutthof :de:Bundesverband für den Selbstschutz Wikipedia entry about the former German Selbstschutz civil defence organisation Explanation of Selbschutz in Austrian Civil Defense Training of civilian population against catastrophes by the Selbstschutz service of the Munich Fire Brigade
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